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Rev Eur Migr Int. 1990;6(2):7-26.

[Selective internationalization: foreign workers and Japanese society].

[Article in French]



Japan's December 1989 revision of the law on immigration and recognition of refugees was intended to provide greater felxibility for employment of foreigners with specialized skills or professional qualifications while excluding migrant workers. This policy, referred to as selective internationalization by the author, represents an effort by the government to early 1980s and to changes in the Japanese economy which after decades of rapid growth is entering a new phase of diversification. The ideal of national homogeneity has prevented formulation of any coherent policy of integrating Japan's foreign born population, mostly descendents of laborers from Japan's former colonies. In 1988, Japan's 677,000 Korean residents constituted 72% of the foreign population registered in Japan. As of 1988, some 40,000 foreigners were registered as residents and permitted to work in any of several well-defined areas. The number, while small, is growing. Illegal migrants are defined essentially as foreigners exercising economic activities not authorized by their visas. The number of such workers is notoriously difficult to estimate, but the number of expulsions for labor violations increased by 4700 in 1989 to 22,600, suggesting that the problem is growing. The Ministry of Justice estimated the number of foreigners in irregular situations at 70,000 in 1988, and it has probably reached 120,000 at present. The number of foreign workers, authorized or not, is estimated at 150-160,000 or .3% of the active population. The 1989 revision of the immigration law does not constitute a foreign labor policy, but it does clearly signal the end of complete protectionism vis a vis the labor market which characterized Japan's period of rapid growth. Internationalization of the labor market reflects 2 concerns, provision of highly qualified employees to enable large enterprises to adapt more readily to changing international conditions, and continued control over the foreign labor supply of small and medium sized enterprises in search of inexpensive unskilled labor. The trend in Japanese society has become less egalitarian in recent years than it was in the years of rapid growth. Changes in mid-career, contractual employment, and other diversified practices are encroaching on the model of lifetime employment by and loyalty to a single enterprise. Introduction of foreign workers will be 1 more factor contributing to diversification. The new policy of selective internationalization will have some impact on the status of the existing Korean and Chinese communities in Japan, but by itself it does little to end social, economic, and legal discrimination against members of these groups.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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